Winter is coming: the sun is setting earlier in the day. The air is starting to freeze. The dead leaves of autumn are being cleared of the streets while the bare trees stand like skeletons awaiting a blanket of snow. The mood of daily life has become harsher and colder, which means we should seek out something to listen to which matches this battle against the elements. The genre of black metal, one of frigid countries such as Norway and Sweden’s finest exports, will do the trick.
Just as supplementary metal genres like folk metal are found in China, but turned relatively Chinese sounding with added traditional instruments and lyrical hymns and themes, black metal is the same. The aesthetic is similar – black clothing, corpsepaint, spiked gauntlets, and the occasional animal skull on stage, but the sound and philosophy behind the music is grounded in the culture. If you recall Japanese black metal band Sigh’s interview in Global Metal, vocalist MiraiKawashima says that Mayhem’s Euronymous wanted him to burn down some churches in Japan. The only problem was, there really weren’t any. The same thing goes in China – of course there are churches, mostly built by foreign settlers in the early 1800s, but on the whole, people don’t really acknowledge Christianity, or any other form of religion (though Buddhists, Muslims and Taoists are present in the country, as well as some Christians and Catholics). Money is religion. Family is religion. So with Chinese black metal, the lyrical content steers away from being completely anti-religious, but does include some of these motifs, while also incorporating progressive styles to the genre such as blackgaze and DSBM. Many of the themes found within Chinese black metal relate to folk stories and mythology, war horrors or the spirit of individualism.
The origins of the genre start with bands like Ululate and Ritual Day, who emerged in the early 2000s. The genre has since expanded into a viable force, with a handful of artists breaching out of their home country to play shows in Japan and Europe. We will now take a look at five current Chinese black metal bands, some of which encapsulate this feeling of frigid weather with frosty shrieks into the darkness, while others act as a lit torch needed to guide the listener into an arctic war – lighting up the enemy’s village into a snow-capped hell-town.
Like a shrieking, white faced banshee emerging out of thick layers of fog, Filth,the vocalist of Black Kirin can be found haunting stages around China while the backing band provides chilling, though virtuous backing music. Founded in 2012, this Changchun based band uses folk instruments and in addition to their highly theatrical stage show, compose songs related to the strife seen in China’s history, namely the infamous Nanking Massacre, in which the city in question was systematically raped and pillaged by the Japanese during WWII. The band has several releases related to this incident, including the album 金陵祭: Nanking Massacre. Musically, the songs are drenched in an asphyxiating atmosphere with audio samples of crying victims nestled in like citizens trapped within the city walls of Nanking to set the mood. Once the music kicks in, the oppressive guitars shred while the vocals are reminiscent of the screeching howls seen on early Darkthrone or Burzum records.
Meaning “Lake of Corpses”, Zuriaake have established themselves as something of a Chinese black metal myth during their career up to this point, keeping the element of mystery alive in music by having shrouded faces, playing in costume and being submerged in near darkness on stage. Recently, they have been spreading the legend overseas, being signed to Season of Mist and having performed abroad at internationally renowned festivals like Wacken. Live, you will find the members dressed in ominous straw hats while the red lights from ominous, curved lanterns bleed onto their wardrobe, bringing to mind ghastly fishermen on lone boats on fog drenched waters during sunset. The style of black metal they produce is a harsh, depressive journey into unknown dimensions, with songs going the doom metal length of twenty minutes and beyond. Their latest, 孤雁 Gu Yan is both melancholy and ripping throughout its run-time. Zuriaake should be witnessed just as any Chinese ghost fable should be studied.
One of China’s first black metal bands – Ritual Day emerged out of the cold without a scene to stand with in 2000. Founding member Nong Yong (with the aid of a few friends) recorded their debut, 2003’s Sky Lake, in records stores around Beijing and upon its release, introduced a new wave of self-expression meaning to exorcise the dark demons dwelling within the average Chinese civilian who longs to express their hatred or anger in a constructive way. Musically, Sky Lake had a lot of similarities to European bands like Emperor, but the band transgressed into something more distinctively Chinese on later releases. They have adopted theatrical corpse paint for their live shows, with a microphone stand decorated with horns and animal skulls acting as a kind of effigy for the evils behind it. They often utilize a pipa, played by occasional vocalist Tsao Chiong, who with her ghoulish makeup and short skirt, looks like a demon summoned from a puzzle box. Introduced to the western world through Sam Dunn’s Global Metal documentary, the band is ever evolving their craft with added traditional instrumentation, blackened atmosphere anon-stagege theatrics, with their third full length album coming out later this year and a poetry book by Yong, Screaming Before Death, released in early 2020.
Norse mythology gave birth to many demigods, and Bergrisar: the fire breathing giants of mountains and arch enemy of Gods, fit the blackened death aesthetic of this Tianjin based band like a leather outfit on a cenobite. Formed in 2019 by members of the legendary slam/groove outfit Dark Prison Massacre, the band is heavily influenced by the sacrilegious style of Belphegor, Behemoth and Goatwhore. With their debut album on the bloody horizon (mixed and mastered by Marco Mastrobuono), a single track, “War”, has been unleashed online for demonic audio incantations. “We are the enemies of God. Nightmare of Gods,” the lyrics proclaim. Although not established into the psyches of listeners yet, they have, however, made a mark playing their first live shows and present themselves like a veteran act, with corpse paint, tight black attire and heaps of blackened blastbeats given out like rotten, leftover Halloween candy.
Jinzhou’s Frozen Moon started in 2001 though has a resurgence in 2018 after some time in the abyss. Starting off rather traditional, after their sabbatical, added folk elements into their music and stage show. Their vocalist reeks of theatricality, donning a fur outfit, while wearing a large animal skull with horns on his head which reach to the stars while his screeches could create icicles even in a sweaty concert hall. As their Mayhem inspired name implies, the band sits comfortably in that second wave of black metal style though combines folk elements with later releases. The band’s lyrical content focuses on history and mythology, with their two-part series The Legend of East Dan blanketing an obscure mist over the fallen oriental empire.
The label Pest Productions, who represent a few other bands on this list, is worth exploring for additional Chinese black metal artists.
This was a guest post submitted by Ryan Dyer.